How USC is preparing freshman QB Ryan Hilinski to face Alabama
The last time South Carolina upended Alabama, it needed a long list of ingredients: An inspired defensive performance on the ground, an otherworldly day from a quarterback and receiver and a freshman tailback grinding things out against a NFL-level defense.
So going into this weekend’s game between Will Muchamp’s Gamecocks and Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, there’s again a list of things USC will need to compete, and it might be a little longer.
That 2010 team was a 7 1/2-point underdog. This one’s line is in the mid-20s. That Gamecocks team had a lot of NFL talent. This one hasn’t proven to have all that just yet.
The ingredients South Carolina might need to pull off an upset:
The simple things
Will Muschamp says it every week, but these small things are the kind that let a game get away from a team.
“There’s things you need to have happen in the game and some things you’d like to be able to avoid,” Muschamp said of every phase. “The obvious things, turnovers, things like that, giving up explosive plays. That’s true in every game.”
A turnover or big play might mean a quick score, a lost scoring chance or both all at once. That kind of thing means a steeper hill to climb against a talented roster.
There’s a certain logic to needing to go a little bolder, maybe break out the trick plays or attack the more difficult parts of the field. At least one player brushed that idea off, but we wouldn’t expect them to tip too much of their hand.
“We’re going to go out there and do what we do,” tailback Rico Dowdle said. “You’ll have different wrinkles and things based on what they do.
“We’re going to go out there with the same approach.”
Help out Ryan
If quarterback Ryan Hilinski is under siege, this is going to go awry incredibly quickly. The former four-star recruit has experience with a banged-up line, but he wasn’t going against anything like this.
Part of keeping him upright is the line communicating well and being on top of things, but another is getting the running game going at least a little. Alabama allowed a few decent rushing performances last season but only 3.2 yards per carry this year. Some kind of run threat will be needed to at least slow the pass rush.
“Slow down the pressure,” tailback Tavien Feaster said. “It’ll help him out really well, being a young guy, keeping him calm. Let him make plays when he has the opportunity to.”
Some of the big memories of South Carolina’s 2010 win were Alshon Jeffery skying for balls. The turning points in Alabama’s last Clemson loss were receivers winning one-on-one against Tide defensive backs.
The Gamecocks have a pair of seasoned pass catchers in Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith. Both have shown the ability to make big plays against good defenses. Edwards is coming off a big game against FCS Charleston Southern, but otherwise, the pair has been a little quiet early in the season.
“They’ve got a great front,” Edwards said. “So obviously you’re going to leave some man-to-man coverage and you’ve got to make plays and beat them.”
Tackle, tackle tackle
This goes back to Muschamp’s warning about big plays. Just about every Alabama skill player is highly fast and shifty. One or two missed tackles, and they’re gone.
With that in mind, being on Ps and Qs on this front stands out as vital to any upset hope.
“Have to be able to tackle on the perimeter,” linebacker Ernest Jones said. “You make a few missed tackles, and they’re out the gate. So you definitely have to tackle on the perimeter, bring your feet and gang tackle. Everybody has to be there.”
Alabama can beat teams in many ways and often can beat them all at once. Will Muschamp said Crimson Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa excels in “off-rhythm” plays, and that’s something USC has to cap.
For being as mobile as he is, Tagovailoa only ran for 190 yards last season. But he can escape the pocket with ease, and then when some defender steps out of position, a laser pass is on-target to a receiver running free.
Getting to him would be a plus for USC, but just containing him might prove more vital.
“You just have to be aware that he has the ability to make plays with his legs,” Jones said. “We have certain things in for that, to counteract that.”